Tuesday, 1 November 2011

12-Pages Online Project Space Call for Submissions: Issue 9

Tacita Dean Chère petite soeur (2002)

12-Pages Online Project Space invites submissions from creative practitioners in response to the theme of ‘Terror’. The release of this brief has been directed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Invasion of Afghanistan. 12-Pages is committed to promoting contemporary drawing practice and requests that submissions demonstrate the drawing process in some way. 12-Pages additionally asks that new works be made in response to the brief. In order to inspire critically engaged responses a rough introduction to the thinking behind the brief is provided.

Submissions deadline: 29th February 2012
E-mail responses to: laura.davidson@tbcartistscollective.org
Submissions guidelines: viewed on our website

Outlining Terror

The Guernica myth was established on the 15th of February 2003, when rumors began circulating from the UN Security Council Chamber that a tapestry copy of Picasso’s seminal painting had been draped with a blue cloth to shield it from view. It became apparent that Guernica was an inappropriate backdrop for the impending announcement. When America’s intention to invade Iraq was announced by Colin Powell, viewers from around the world saw him framed by the UN’s pale blue, rather than the disjointed horrors of Guernica. It has been said that the UN was put under considerable pressure to conceal the tapestry as screen tests before the live announcement showed the horse’s head rear up above the person talking. The concealing of an artwork on the eve of such an historical announcement would inevitably be perceived as a gagging of free speech. The covering up of this artwork during the early stages of the War on Terror would come to represent metaphorically the lack of government response to the mass protest of their citizens (in the US and UK) against the impending invasion. The concept of an enemy named ‘Terror’ seemed somehow mythological. How is it possible to wage war against a verb? In a cultural context, how does the art community put such an elusive concept into a critical framework? In other words; if art cannot have Guernica to represent sheer terror, then what is it entitled to claim?

In the years leading up to the Iraq War, the apocalyptic visions of September 11th were pulsing through the veins of the world media when the Invasion of Afghanistan was announced. These representations were continually recycled to justify the War on Terror.  The world had become a place saturated with hyperactive illustrations, replayed over and over, filling the citizens of predominately western nations with a fear of this unknown, slippery, indefinable enemy known as Terror. The Invasion of Afghanistan was only the beginning of this stretching decade of conflict. The War on Terror left in its wake a trail of imagery, of spectacle, of war and of the sublime that is so dense in it’s recording (coinciding with the new digital era) that grasping the concept of the conflict: Terror, is still difficult a decade later. 

As perhaps suggested in the Guernica myth, art’s engagement with terror is a relationship defined through centuries of academic discourse. Most famously, the epic engagement of the sublime by J.M.W Turner and Casper David Freidrich distills to us the intangible qualities of terror and fear. The sublime could be an art historical tool to represent the elusive contemporary conceptualisation of Terror. Turner and Freidrich use painting to render the panic of the human condition to something with, of course, a peculiar aesthetic contradiction we recognize as the sublime. This contradiction was inevitably echoed in the rhetoric of the War on Terror during the ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign. Had this phrase not been coined in earnest by the Bush Administration it could easily be applied to Freidrich’s painting The Chalk Cliffs on Rügen (1818). Taken out of context, shock and awe is in so many ways a concise description of the sublime. In Freidrich’s painting, the man stumbling towards his renegade top hat on the edge of a cliff frames the ultimate power of the natural world over the small stature of man. For a humble man, the fear of nature is awe-inspiring. With a media so full of pseudo apocalyptic imagery it comes as no surprise that an interest in the sublime has come to the fore of art thinking once more.

The 2009 exhibition Compass in Hand at MoMA, New York, presented newly acquired works from the Judith Rothschild Contemporary Drawing Collection. The exhibition meant that MoMA’s Curator of Drawing, Christian Rattemeyer, could concede a small victory as keeper of the medium. For the first time MoMA’s history a drawing was displayed in the public areas of the museum. Tacita Dean’s Chère petite soeur (2002), a colossal diptych measuring 243.8 x 487.7 cm, was hung in a space normally reserved for the departments of painting and sculpture. Dean’s chalk on blackboard piece had staged an insurrection of the curatorial hierarchy.

Chère petite soeur (2002) is a replay of a Marcel Broodthaers film based on a postcard he found of a boat being tossed around in a storm. The interest in the piece lies in the year of production, a year after September 11th and the Invasion of Afghanistan and a year before the Iraq War. The immersion of the viewer in a dusty, churned sea instantly brings Turner to mind.  One observes the boat’s futile attempt to triumph over the inevitable terror of nature. In retrospect the work serves as a cultural talisman, produced in advance of any announcements of ‘Shock and Awe’ by the previous American government. The apocalyptic wind depicted in the drawing was perhaps capturing the atmospheric terror experienced in the west. The reference of the sublime in Chère petite soeur evidences the growing engagement with Terror in contemporary practice.

Rattemeyer would later comment on the selection process for Compass in Hand. The exhibition, curated by conceptual and aesthetic relationships instead of chronology, revealed drawings depicting severed limbs and collaged bodies. However, what these works unveiled to him was a drawn response to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which he had not considered previously. It came as no surprise that these works were produced around the 2002-2004 period. These comments were made during a panel discussion at the conference Travelling Lines: Drawing as an Itinerant Practice, 22-23 September. Co-Curated by the Drawing Room, London and TrAIN, University of the Arts, London

The contrast of the collage on paper works with Dean’s chalk board diptych, should hopefully give you, a potential respondent of the brief, an insight into the far reaching context of terror in relation to contemporary drawing practice. Responses to ‘Terror’ can be plotted anywhere from the imagery of war to the poetic mechanisms of the sublime.

Further Research

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